The Dip Hits the Fan

Pizza battle gets ugly

Today, the country finds itself on the battleground for a new kind of war: A pizza war. We shouldn't be surprised, really. It was only a matter of time before someone modernized the pie. In its original form, it's nearly impossible to dip a slice in ranch dressing without making a mess, for goodness sake! Pizza Hut's Dippin' Strips are the answer to that age-old problem. But believe it or not, there are those who resist progress.

For weeks, the marketing of the only pizza that is divided into 16 strips, each one-inch wide and four inches long (the most dippable dimensions!), has mesmerized me. My curiosity finally pushed me to the nearest Pizza Hut, where I whispered "Gimme the Dippin' Strips." The woman behind the counter didn't judge me—bless her heart. I brought the goods ($10) back to my cubicle and pulled the foil off the icy cold marinara, garlic, and (least explainable) ranch dip cups. The pizza itself was thick, spongy, and full of grease.

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Purist pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
photo: Nina Lalli
As for the dippin': The marinara was thick and extremely sweet, with a weird "herbs and spices" flavor. The garlic sauce was nothing short of crazy. More than the garlic powder flavor I expected, there was an overwhelming fake-butter taste, which was more like popcorn jelly beans than garlic (or butter for that matter) and completely obliterated the pepperoni. Finally, the anticipated ranch . . . again I was shocked. I made a colleague taste it, and I watched closely. When the dip hit her tongue, a chill ran through her entire body—she visibly recoiled. If the chemical emulsifiers in the garlic dip were overpowering, I would have to call the ranch mind-boggling. It transformed my strip into an outright Cool Ranch Dorito.

While the rest of America is striving to invent pies that taste like corn chips, New York's new pizzaiolos are making pizza taste like pizza again. These radicals advocate a return to the food's roots in Naples, Italy. One of the most militant is Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana, whose pizza is inspired by a pre-pepperoni world (I wouldn't mention ranch around this guy). There are just four pies on the menu—the most innovative being the "filetti," which has cherry tomatoes instead of crushed canned ones—and no sides, appetizers, or desserts.

The real stuff is expensive ($17 for an individual pie at Una Pizza) but the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) comes impressively close to what I have eaten in Naples. The tomatoes are wet and loose, sweet and acidic; the mozzarella (di buffala) is tangy, milky, and almost liquid when it emerges from the oven; the basil is charred, as is the crust in spots. The dough is thin but the result is still chewy—not brittle, which is the most common pitfall of "fancy pizza." And rather than greasiness, one tastes real extra virgin olive oil. The biggest difference is the feeling one has after consuming the two extremes of today's pizzas: after the Dippin' Strips debacle, I felt thirsty and ashamed, while after the Una Pizza Napoletana, I felt a little poorer, but pleasantly full and sleepy.

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